There are some authors that other authors just swoon over. Nova Ren Suma is one of them and I really don’t get it. Her prose is quite beautiful but I’ve always had a hard time getting into her books and they are not that memorable after I have read them. The only thing I remember about the other book I have read by her, Imaginary Girls was that it had a good ending and I think one of the girls died for the other. The common thread of these books is that her characters are shrouded in mystery. I’m not sure what I’m missing. It’s not that I don’t like her books but I don’t find them to be as wonderful as I they are supposed to be. Then again, reading is subjective. What someone likes someone else might not.
The Walls Around Us is the story of three girls. Amber is in a juvenile dentition center for girls, serving time for a crime she may or may not have committed with little chance of getting out anytime soon. Violet is a ballet dancer, who is on the verge of getting everything she has ever wanted. She just graduated high school and is about to start at Julliard for more training. Orianna is the link between the two of them. As the story unfolds, we discover who did what and who is innocent and who is guilty.
Major spoilers ahead
My biggest problem with this book is that the biggest mystery of the novel is what really happened in the alley that left two girls dead that lead to Orianna being accused of murder. It was pretty obvious to me from the beginning that Violet was the guilty party and not Orianna but thanks to shock, money and much better lawyers, Violet was never accused or suspected. Orianna is from a poorer family and a broken home and also happens to be found with the murder weapon in her hand. That was all that is needed to convict her. For Violet’s part, Orianna going to jail was the best thing that happen to her. She went from being just another talented ballet dancer in the class to the best in class. She started getting the solos and she was going to Julliard. Orianna would go to jail and then die while behind bars. Basically, Violet got away with murder and is doing so has got everything she ever dreamed of.
Amber was a little harder to figure out and also more interesting. Violet is, while complicated, is mostly just a spoiled rich girl that got what she wanted. The girls who were bullying her, gone. Her best friend and main competition gone. Amber, however, was convicted of tampering with her abusive stepfather’s car, that then caught on fire and killed him. She hated her stepfather for what he did to her and her mother. More importantly, I think she hated him for taking her mother away from her, even though he was abusive. She kept a journal of ways of killing him. It would be used as motive. In a dentition center full of teenage girl criminals, Amber is known as the innocent one. I couldn’t figure out for sure if they really thought she was innocent or if they were saying that ironically. We learn early in the book that the point of views of Amber and Violet’s are happening three years apart. Amber is reliving the last month of her life, when Orianna becomes her cellmate. Violet is about to leave for Julliard decides she needs closure, she need to see where Orianna died and makes a trip to the dentention center. Here is where the stories converge and intermingle and make sense. Right before the climax of the story, Amber finds out that she is about to be released and the thought of living outside scares her. She hasn’t spoken to her mother in three years and hasn’t seen her sister either. She has accepted her life behind bars and her guilt. She also knows that Orianna is truly innocent and unlike the other girls is actually a good person. How can she leave when Orianna has to stay? To say she sort of snapped would be an understatement and her actions mean that her and her former inmates relive her mistake over and over again. But why? Well it turns out, so they can serve justice that Orianna didn’t get in life.
Maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s just wanting to put her past behind her that leads Violet decides she needs to pay her respects to Orianna and visit the detention center. In doing so, all three come face to face in a way. The ending isn’t really that surprising as I sort saw it coming. In a moment of madness or being haunted, Violet comes face to face with Orianna and confesses that she is not truly sorry for what happened. She is not sorry for how her life turned out after Orianna got sent away. It is this reason that Violet is killed by the inmates and takes Orianna’s place inside, while Orianna takes Violet’s and is free. But does that mean she is forever known as Violet? Do people know she is Orianna? Does this change history and people think that Violet was the guilty one all along and Orianna was innocent and now going to Julliard? I guess these questions are left open for a reason.
I am still not sure how I feel about this book. I liked it but I didn’t love it. I think it’s meant for us to question what it means to be innocent or guilty. Violet is definitely guilty and has no remorse for what she did. Amber is guilty and I’m not sure if she wasn’t justified because her stepfather deserved it. Orianna is actually innocent but because she was a loyal friend with limited financial resources, she is made out to look as the most guilty one of them all. If anything, it’s a timely portrait of a our current legal system that does truly favor the rich. Violet’s family has money and could afford a good attorney. Not to mention, they had donated to the local police station in the past. Both Amber and Orianna could not and had to use public defenders and were not in as good standing as Violet’s family. Amber and Orianna were assumed guilty and so they were found guilty. Violet was from a good family so she wasn’t. It’s a sad statement but sadly relevant.